Wednesday, March 11, 2015

J. O. Cornes

An unusual name and almost unknown within the world of comics, but J. O. Cornes may have had a lengthy career working anonymously for D. C. Thomson. His full output is unlikely to ever be known, but what we do know hints at a career of some length.

Cornes is known to  have contributed to Wizard when it was a text story paper, his earliest story possibly being 'The Line of the Fox' (1953-54), about the Alverton Hunt, although authorship of this series is uncertain. Cornes was definitely behind 'Tales of Lonely Wood', a series of stories about the woodland animals, that appeared in 1954 and was later reprinted in Rover in 1966. At the same time, he was also writing 'Sergeant Blake of the Iron Fists', narrated by Mike Selby, a trooper with the Royal Tank Regiment, about his exploits with the mysterious Sergeant Blake. The original series of 13 stories was quickly followed with two further series in 1954-55: 'Sergeant Blake of the Iron Fists' (8 stories) and 'The Ironfist Stories' (13 stories). 'Dreadnought of the Desert' (10 stories) followed in 1957.

Cornes was also writing other stories, including the SF serial 'He Saw The Start of the Terror' (1954-55), about plants growing to gigantic size, 'Airmen With Seaboots On', about Air-Sea Rescue during the Second World War, and 'Hobbs of the Nameless Flotilla', about Lieutenant Hobbs, commander of a World War 2 motor torpedo boat battling German U-Boats.

Cornes also filled-in as a writer on 'The Wolf of Kabul' (1955). Lonely Wood was revisited in 1955 and more animal tales appeared courtesy of 'Black Flash', a polecat. 'Red Lion of the Fens' (1956) was set in Norfolk, whilst 'The Boyhood of Davey Crockett' (1957) was set in the wild lands of the American frontier. Cornes may have also been responsible for a similar series of boyhood tales of 'Buffalo Bill' (1958), but that remains unconfirmed. He did, however, pen a series of true stories about 'Famous Men of the West' (1958-59).

More true stories were featured in an individually-titled series of stories about the world's greatest disasters (1959), amongst them the Titanic and the Tay Bridge, and a second series of 'Famous Men of the West' (1960-61). 'The Iron Sergeant of the Battles' marked the fifth and final appearance of Sergeant Blake in 1962, which was probably by Cornes; his last confirmed appearance was in 1962-63 with the series 'That Tough Guy Bradley', about western sheriff Six-Gun Bradley, reviving a character from the 1930s. A sequel appeared in Rover & Wizard in 1965, which might have been a continuation by Cornes.

This extensive writing CV in Wizard was probably equalled in other Thomson papers, although the only other credit I have been able to track down is Sky of Flame (Commando 597, November 1971), drawn by Jose Maria Jorge. There is every chance that Cornes wrote stories for other Thomson comics, Hotspur and Victor being likely suspects.

James Oliver Cornes, born in Solihull, Warwickshire, a few miles south-east of Birmingham, in 1912, was the son of William George Cornes, a chauffeur, and his wife Ada L (nee Hastings), who had married in 1910. He had a brother named Geoffrey Hastings Cornes, born 27 November 1913, who died in 1989, and two sisters.

Official records offer little else. I believe Cornes was married in 1941 in Croydon, Surrey, to Enid B. Wade and twin daughters may have been born later that year (Angela M. Cornes and Deborah A. Cornes). After the war, Cornes lived at The Cottage, Redgrave, Botesdale, Suffolk. The family grew with the births of Martin J. D. Cornes (1950), Catherine H. Cornes (1951), Felicity J. Cornes (1954), Hilary V. Cornes (1955), Virginia C. Cornes (1957) and Paul W. G. Cornes (1959).

In January 1958, Cornes became a Lieutenant in Suffolk regiment of the Territorial Army. Around the same time, he moved to Ling Farm, Low Road, Wortham, Suffolk. On 8 April 1960 (according to The London Gazette, 12 April 1960), James Oliver Cornes, author, appeared in court at Ipswich and was declared to be receiving orders under the bankruptcy act. He was released on 15 December 1960.

This is the last official record I have been able to find for him, although it would seem he continued writing for at least the next decade.


  1. Fascinating, Steve. As a child, reading 'Dreadnought of the Desert', I never picked that its author was also responsible for 'Black Flash', 'Red Lion of the Fens', 'The Boyhood of Davey Crockett', or even 'Hobbs of the Nameless Flotilla'. A diversity of settings and periods indeed, and all yarns I can remember enjoying. I still have my copies of The Wizard and must add them to my TBreR pile! It would be interesting to learn how your rare nuggets of information have come to light. The Thomson crowd always staunchly "protected" the anonymity of their authors. And I wonder just how that bankruptcy episode came about. Too large a family to support? The vicissitudes of life on a farm? Poor pay rates north of the Border for unnamed writers? Perhaps Mr Cornes' family could offer some clues.

  2. There's little information about the authors behind Thomson's anonymous boys' papers, but in the case of The Wizard, some nice editor in the past jotted down some notes and they were passed on to me by a kindly former editor. These scraps are gold dust to those of us interested in knowing the names of those folks who entertained the millions.

  3. Hi Steve. Imagine my astonishment and delight when I came across this blog. James Cornes was my father and I suspect he was one of D. C. Thomsons' most prolific writers. He had to e with ten children to support. Apart from those of us mentioned in your blog there are also Andrew, (1946) and Rosalind) (1948).
    I remember Sergeant Blake very well - in fact when my first children's novel was published I dedicated to him - I have a feeling though that his first published series was about a couple of brothers trying to make it on a farm just after the war.
    I was unaware - and I'm pretty sure the rest of the family are also - of the bankruptcy episode. Dad and Mum obviously shielded us from it pretty well, but as Chap O'Keefe says it was probably the struggle to support such a large family. I know we sailed a bit close to the wind a few times when he had a string of rejections. Freelance writing is not for the fainthearted and it was his only source of income - we rented the farmhouse at Ling Farm but didn't own the farm
    Thomsons were not over generous to their writers and they retained copyright on everything which meant it could be regurgitated in annuals and other places without any royalties being paid. I believe one series he wrote about the Arbroath lifeboatmen was sold to the BBC for a radio programme.
    I emigrated to Australia in 1962 so I lost track of what he was working on after that - it was all picture scripts by then - but I know he was still writing for Thomsons up until 1970 when he and my Mum also came out to Australia with the four youngest children and he got a "proper job."
    Sergeant Blake was especially close to his heart because he was attached to the Tank Regiment as an armourer during the war. He left before Angela and I were born (October 1941) and was captured in North Africa, spending time in POW camps in Italy and then Germany. I can still remember vividly the day he came home.

  4. Deborah,

    What a fascinating story. I'm so pleased that you found my post. The problem I have in researching the anonymous authors of these old story papers is that there is almost nothing in the way of official records. I was lucky even to discover your father's name.

    The other problem, of course, is that often only the bad times tend to be recorded in any official records - court cases might make the papers, bankruptcies are recorded in the London Gazette, etc. - so it's great to clothe this outline with some real memories of your father and his work. If you or any other family member cares to share any more memories, please do let me know.

  5. Thanks Steve. Two pictures scripts James Cornes wrote (or contributed to) were Black Bob (the sheepdog) and Big Klanky (the robot - think it was spelt with a K) He wanted to call the series Great Big Kanky, but they wouldn't let him.
    I don't know if he wrote all the Black Bob stories, but I know he wrote some of them. I remember him telling us of the discussions he had with his editors about a period when Black Bob had suffered some kind of accident that temporarily blinded him. There was a debate about how best to portray a blind dog in a picture strip. Eventually someone - I don't know if it was Dad or the artist - suggested putting a bandage over his eyes, and that's how he appeared in several episodes.

  6. That's quite a famous story, where Bob is blinded by a falling tree. It appeared in the 1965 Black Bob annual, but may have had an earlier appearance in the pages of The Dandy. Klanky appeared in Sparky from 1966 and your Dad may have written the first four series; there was a fifth that appeared in 1972-74, but that was after his move to Oz.

  7. Hi, this is Hilary nee Cornes. We are all so excited to read this blog Steve. Dad also wrote for several of the girls comics, one character was "Nan in the News " about a girl who was always finding herself in the newspapers for one reason or another. Also a boy who lived with seals?

  8. Hi this is Janie aka Felicity Cornes. Wow! Have I shed some tears over your blog. Like Hilly and Debbie I too have been thinking of the titles that James wrote for. The ones that spring instantly to mind are Shadow the Sheepdog, The Wolf of Kabul, Alf Tupper the Tough of the Track, Denis The Menace (and later his sister), The Bash Street Gang, The Four Marys, Nan in the News (I remember James asking for story line suggestions for this series and receiving pocket money for the outline of a story where she was adrift of the coast and had to be rescued by a life boat. I know James was paid for this but can't recall seeing it in print).

    You may be interested to know that James kept a diary of his time as a POW and Debbie gifted it to the Museum of the County of London Yeomanry on our behalf.

  9. Hi Hilary and Janie,

    That's quite a haul of titles. I would think he was on the Thomson treadmill and probably contributed ideas to a fair number of humour stories and maybe scripts for annuals. A lot of the humour stories (Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, etc.) were written in-house by editorial staffers, but there would have been room for contributions from freelancers.

    Nan in the News appeared in Mandy, which was launched in 1967. A boy living with seals... kind of rings a bell but I'm not sure where from. The Four Marys was, of course, the famous strip from Bunty which began in the very first issue in 1958. I imagine James would have been involved at a later date.

  10. Hi Steve,

    I think I am imagining Enid Blyton's 'Shadow the Sheepdog' in comic strip format because it was such a familiar title to me as a child.

    I believe Nan was one of James' own characters whereas many of the others, as you say, were ones that he simply contributed to.

  11. I've just remembered another one. "Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora" or vice versa, I can't recall which comic it was in.

  12. Hilary,

    Another one from Sparky, starting in the very first issue in 1967.

    And, Janie, I suspect you're thinking of Black Bob the sheepdog, or "Dandy Wonder Dog" as he was known.

  13. Hi All.

    I am James Cornes Grandson (Felicity' Son).

    Having only met Pops on a visit to Australia as a young child (5 or 6) I have very few memories of him and even less of an insight into who he was and how he supported his large family.

    His output of work and dedication to what seems to be a pretty poorly paid job is truly inspiring.

    Steve, thank you for uncovering this information and getting it out into the public domain.

    Given the size of our family I know you have bought joy to many people, and from reading my aunts comments you have also given new life to some forgotten memories.

    Love to all

    Morgan x

  14. Wow! an incursion of Corneses. You're going to be sorry you ever started this Steve.

    Just to add to the list I know he wrote one story - if not a whole series - about a Mississippi Keelboatman called Mike Fink. I remember him telling us it was a bit of a fraud making him out to be a hero, because in truth men like him were really uncouth bully boys who'd punch you in the face just for looking at them the wrong way or drop a lighted firecracker down the front of your pants just to get a laugh from their mates.



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